The World Beyond Death
April 4th, 1977 @ 12:00 PM
Death, Easter, Faith, Hope, Resurrection, Truth, Vision, The Ethereal World (Pre-Easter '77), 1977, Acts
THE WORLD BEYOND DEATH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-4-77 12:00 p.m.
The theme for the services this week is “The Ethereal World,” the other world; today, The World Beyond Death; tomorrow, The World of Satan; on Wednesday, The World of Angels; on Thursday, The World Beyond the Skies; and on Friday, the day He was crucified, The World Beyond the Veil. Today, The World Beyond Death, reading the latter part of the seventh chapter of Acts which describes the martyrdom of Stephen:
And when they heard these things, they were cut to the heart . . .
And he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
And he said, Behold, I see heaven opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.
Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,
And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul
Whom we know as the apostle Paul:
And they stoned Stephen, as he called upon God, saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
The World Beyond Death. What is it to die? Where do we go when we die? And is there anything beyond the grave? The answer to that on the part of the materialist, and the infidel, and the atheist, and the existentialist philosopher is “nothing.” Beyond death and beyond the grave there is nothing. They avow that this planet upon which we live faces nothing but ultimate and inexorable extinction. They describe the demise of this earth in either one of two ways. It will end in fire, by falling into the sun. They envisage a time when the great impersonal law that keeps our planets in order somehow loses its effectiveness. And in the collision of planets and stars, this earth upon which we live is plunged into the sun, and it dies in a holocaust and in flame. Or some of them say, “No. The end of this world will be in cold and in ice.” They envisage a time when the sun will gradually cool and when this world will be plunged into impenetrable darkness, and howling winds will forever blow over the face of the frozen deep. To the existentialist, to the materialist, the end of this world is certain and inevitable.
What lies beyond the grave for life itself, their answer is likewise; nothing. We are not going on, we are going out. They avow that life is nothing but a purposeless, useless, brief experience in a pilgrimage on the face of this planet. They say that life is nothing but a jungle in which the weak perish and the stronger struggle for a brief existence. They say that life is nothing but a net in which men are caught in a web of circumstances over which they have no control. They say that life is a mill in which humanity is caught between the grinding of the upper and nether stones of blind fate and inexorable and cruel circumstance. They liken life to a juggernaut before which humanity is crushed into the dust of the ground. That indefinable essence of human personality, to them is swallowed up into nothing. Such a view which is the inevitable and inescapable view of the agnostic, of the infidel, of the atheist, of the unbeliever, of the existentialist philosopher, such a view magnifies forever the victory of death. The grave is king forever. And its bonds and its chains shackle us world without end and without hope. And such a view renders the Christian faith in indescribable sadness, uselessness, purposelessness.
A Mary Magdalene is taken from sin only to be cast into the grave. It takes a Zaccheus from his dishonesty only to cast him into the grave. It takes this martyr Stephen, or the martyr James or Paul, and takes them through suffering and martyrdom into the grave. It takes all those who have been saved to a hope in Christ ultimately and finally into the grave. It takes those who have found a new life in Christ and plunges them into the grave. In all of human thought and imagination, there is nothing so hopeless, so dark and despairing, as the life view of the atheist, the existentialist philosopher, the man who finds no meaning and no purpose in life. To them, the grave is the end of all existence.
Is there nothing after death? Is there not some other word? Is there not somewhere some light of hope? There is. One of the most dramatic and thrilling of all of the passages in human literature is the story of the Venerable Bede concerning the conversion of our ancestors, the Angles to the Christian faith. It happened in the land where he was born. And it happened just a few years before that date in the 600s AD. The pastor at Canterbury in England had sent a missionary by the name of Paulinus to the court of King Edwin of Northumbria, king of the Anglos. And in the story of the Venerable Bede, there is gathered in the great hall of King Edwin his warriors, his knights, and his counselors. And before the king and the court Paulinus, God’s missionary, presents the gospel of the Son of God and makes his appeal for faith and hope and trust in Him. When the missionary Paulinus has done his appeal, King Edwin, seated at the head of the great council table, is plunged into deep silence.
And as King Edwin sits at the head of the table in silence one of the aged warriors arises, and addressing the king and the knights and the warriors he describes the hopelessness of the night in which he and his people live. Then he turns and says,
But if this pale Paulinus
Have something more to tell;
Some word of Whence and Whither,
And where the soul doth dwell;
If on that outer darkness
The sun of light may shine;
He brings life to the despairing!
And I take his God for mine!
[from The Conversion of Northumbria ]
And that was the conversion of our ancestors, the Angles of Northumbria.
Is it true that the missionary, and the emissary of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God, has a message of hope for the world? We do; as Paul avowed it, for Christ hath brought life and immortality to life [2 Timothy 1:10]. The Christian hope is beautiful, and precious, and authenticated by the very presence, and life, and death, and resurrection of the Son of God Himself [Romans 8:11]. The grave is not our home; heaven is our home [Philippians 3:20]. Our Lord said, in the most beautiful and comforting of all of the passages in the Bible, “Because I have said these things unto you, My going away, sorrow filled your heart [John 16:6]. But let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God,” and we do, “believe also in Me,” and we shall, “in My Father’s house are many mansions…I go to prepare a topos” there’s no way in the world to translate that word but place; a physical place; an actual place. “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” [John 14:1-3].
Beyond the grave, and beyond life, and beyond death, there is heaven, and heaven is a place [John 14:3]. The sainted John, who wrote those words from the lips of our Lord, saw it in a vision in the age of his life, and he said, “It is a city. And its walls are of jasper. And its gates are of pearl. And its streets are of solid gold” [Revelation 21:18-21]. Heaven is a place. It is a beautiful city, the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:2, 9-10]. And God’s Word says we go there immediately when we die [Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8]. We don’t linger in the dust of the grave; nor do we enter any probationary period of purgatory. When we die, immediately, we are in the presence of our Lord in heaven [Philippians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:8]. When Lazarus died, described in the sixteenth chapter of Luke, the angels came and bore him to Abraham’s bosom, a name for heaven [Luke 16:22]. When the dying thief was executed, and faced death on the cross, by the side of our Lord, the Lord Jesus said to him, “Today,” sēmeron, “This day,” this day, not even tomorrow’s day, this day, sēmeron, this day, “thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:42-43].
There could hardly be a more beautiful writing than this of the apostle Paul in the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians:
For we know that if the earthly house of this body, this tabernacle, be dissolved, we have a building of God, one not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house, our home, which is in heaven . . .
We are confident, I say, and willing rather—
and then he has a play on two Greek words, here it is translated—
rather willing to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
[2 Corinthians 5:1-2, 8]
He has a play on two Greek words, “absent from the body,” ekdēmeō, “and to be present with the Lord,” endēmeō [2 Corinthians 5:8]. May I translate those words exactly? Ekdēmeō means away from home, and endēmeō means to be at home. And, playing upon those words, he says that we who have looked in faith to the Lord are willing, rather, to be ekdēmeō as to the body and endēmeō as to our home in heaven [2 Corinthians 5:8]. Immediately, when we close our eyes in death on this world, we open our eyes in heaven. That’s why I asked the editor of our little paper, The Reminder, instead of saying “Our Dead,” or “The Obituaries,” to write there, and we’ve done it now for thirty and three years, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord” [2 Corinthians 5:8].
When one of God’s saints dies and closes his eyes on this world, he opens his eyes and is in heaven. That’s our home. That’s our eternal home [Philippians 3:19]. That’s our inheritance––not here, but over there [1 Peter 1:4]. Beyond the grave is our home [Philippians 3:20]. Do you remember Robert Louis Stevenson writing the inscription for his own tombstone:
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
[“Requiem,” Robert Louis Stevenson]
Or as our forefathers used to sing:
I am a stranger here,
Heaven is my home.
Earth is a desert drear,
Heaven is my home.
Sorrows and dangers stand
‘Round me on every hand,
Heaven is my fatherland.
Heaven is my home.
[“I’m But a Stranger Here,” Thomas R. Taylor, 1836]
What lies beyond the grave, what lies beyond death: our Lord’s welcome home [John 14:3].
In a state on the other side of the river, preaching at a state evangelistic conference, one of the pastors with whom I had gone to school, whom I’d known as a dear friend for a generation, came to my room late at night. This is what he said; he said, “Criswell, since I last saw you, my father died. My mother died. And our one child, our boy, died.” And I began to sympathize with him, and he immediately interrupted and said, “No, don’t sympathize with me. Don’t.” He said, “The doctor has just now told me that I have cancer and that I have something like three more months to live. And,” he said, “Criswell, I look forward to that translation.” He said, “The Book says that there are gates on either side of the city [Revelation 21:12-13], and I just wonder at which one of those gates my boy will be standing with his arms outstretched and his word, ‘Welcome, Dad. Welcome home.’”
What lies beyond the grave? Life, and light, and immortality, and Jesus, and the saints of all God’s redeemed, and the fellowship of the angels innumerable, and these whom you’ve loved and lost for a while, who wait for us to come home [2 Timothy 1:10].
I will sing you a song of that beautiful land,
The far away home of the soul,
Where no storms ever beat on the glittering strand,
While the years of eternity roll
O, how sweet it will be in that beautiful land,
So free from all sorrow and pain,
With songs on our lips and with harps in our hands,
To meet one another again.
[from “Home of the Soul,” by Ellen M. H. Gates, 1865]
Heaven, our home, is just beyond the grave [Philippians 3:20].
So Lord, in the confidence and assurance that God hath prepared for us beyond what eye hath ever seen, or ear hath ever heard, or heart hath ever imagined [1 Corinthians 2:9], may we do our work, live our lives in triumph and joy. When that inevitable time comes for our translation, may we look upon it as a home-going with anticipation, in victory, when the trumpets sound on the other side of the river, and the saints welcome us home [Hebrews 12:23]; in the love and grace and Spirit of our Lord, and in His dear name, amen.
I. Materialist, atheist, infidel,
unbeliever say nothing
A. Our planet faces
B. Our lives face
C. The hopeless view
1. Magnifies the
Christian faith to indescribable uselessness and hopelessness (1 Corinthians 15:19)
II. Is there some other word?
A. There is
1. Venerable Bede
III. The Christian revelation (2 Timothy
A. A place (John
14:1-3, Revelation 21:2)
B. Immediately there
after death (Luke 16:22, 23:43, 2 Corinthians 5:8)
C. We shall have a new
body (1 Corinthians 15:50-52)